Sperm Washing for IUI

Sperm washing for IUI mimics some of the natural processes that occur in the woman’s body prior to conception.

One of the procedures that the physicians use to overcome infertility is intrauterine insemination. This is one of several methods that are used to accomplish fertilization of an egg. In this method, the physician monitors a woman’s cycle closely, paying particular attention to the number of follicles being produced.

Sometimes the physician monitors the follicles that are produced during a woman’s natural cycle without the aid of a hormonal supplement. For these patients, their level of LH is monitored daily at home. When the LH level increases or “surges”, the patient will schedule an IUI appointment because she will ovulate the following day.

For some patients, the physician may choose to use one of the fertility drugs to achieve ovulation. After close monitoring of the follicles that are being produced in the ovaries, the physician will decide when to give an injection of HCG. This injection will set into motion a series of hormonal events within the woman’s body that will end with the ovulation of one or more eggs.

Regardless of which monitoring technique is used, it is important for the sperm and an egg to be present in the Fallopian tubes at the same time in order to accomplish fertilization of the egg.

The laboratory at Ovation Fertility Austin has an important role in the IUI process. Our Austin IVF lab’s staff of experienced embryologists and andrologists prepares the semen samples that are collected at home or in our collection room. These prepared samples are injected into the uterus of the patient by the physician on the day or days that will have the greatest chance of fertilizing the egg in the Fallopian tube.

During the preparation of the sperm that is to be used in intrauterine insemination, the lab staff has to mimic some of the natural processes that occur in the woman’s body.

In the natural process, seminal fluid containing sperm is ejaculated into the vagina and the fast-moving, normal sperm swim through the cervical mucus leaving behind the liquid portion of semen and many sperm with poor motility. The good quality sperm then begin to swim in the woman’s tissue fluids through the uterus and into the Fallopian tubes. Along the way, many good quality sperm are trapped in the great number of folds of the uterine lining or in the walls of the Fallopian tubes. Even though millions of sperm begin the journey, only a few thousand arrive at the egg.

In the preparation of sperm for IUI’s, our Austin IVF lab team separates quality sperm from the semen and from the sperm with poor motility by a series of washes. The best sperm are then re-suspended in a small amount of fluid that mimics the tissue fluids that are found in the uterus and in the Fallopian tubes. This fluid and the sperm that are contained in it are injected by the physician into the uterus of the patient. The fluid provides nutrients for the sperm as well as a medium in which the sperm can swim. The healthy, fast moving sperm swim to the Fallopian tubes where they may be present to fertilize the egg.

The sperm that are injected into the uterus during the IUI have to travel some distance before they can fertilize the egg. And, just like in the natural process, there are many sperm lost along the way. So, there must be sufficient numbers of sperm in the ejaculated sample with good motility and forward progression in order to have enough sperm to complete the trip to the egg.